Sometimes, racism today is more covert than in the past. It often takes statistical studies to uncover patterns of discrimination in jury selection or disproportionate sentencing in cases with white victims. But at Andrew Ramseur’s trial in 2010, the racism was right out in the open.
Andrew was a young black man accused of killing two white people in Iredell County during a convenience store robbery that went wrong. As soon as he was charged, white community members began hurling racist slurs and calling for vigilante justice. “Where did I put that noose?” one online comment said.
Prosecutors often seek life sentences in cases like this one. Andrew was just 19, barely old enough to be eligible for the death penalty, and had no record of violent crime. He was an abandoned and neglected child who grew up in poverty, living in a neighborhood polluted by toxic waste. Yet, before Andrew was even indicted, the district attorney promised to seek his execution.
As Andrew sat in jail awaiting trial, the barrage of racist online comments continued. “Once upon a time … during another time, these senseless crimes did not happen,” one commenter wrote. “There was a group that took care of these people at night. ‘WE’ were able to sleep at night with our doors unlocked without fear of these vermin.”
Another person wrote: “Racism, schmacism. Get a rope and let’s go hang us one.”
When Andrew’s defense attorneys came to town to investigate the case, they too received death threats. They argued that Andrew could not get a fair trial amid the furor in Iredell County and asked that the trial be moved. The judge refused, and dismissed their concerns about the death threats they were receiving.
On the first day of trial, the sheriff’s department cordoned off the rows of seats behind the defense table with yellow crime scene tape, making it appear to the jury pool that Andrew was so dangerous that even court observers shouldn’t get near him. The defense eventually persuaded the judge to order the tape removed, but Andrew’s family was still forced to leave the front rows empty and sit in the back. On the other side of the courtroom, the white families of the victims sat in the front.
The prosecutor used peremptory strikes to remove all the black jurors, leaving Andrew’s fate in the hands of an all-white jury with no understanding of the impoverished, segregated neighborhood where Andrew grew up. They deliberated only a few hours before sentencing Andrew to death
Andrew is now seeking a chance at a fair sentence under the Racial Justice Act. In 2020, the N.C. Supreme Court ruled that he is entitled to a hearing on the overwhelming evidence of racism in his case.
Read more about Andrew Ramseur’s case and its connection to a racist history in Racist Roots.